Most firms are not ready for Brexit’s extra trade burdens

Most Irish firms still aren’t ready for the extra customs costs and workload of Brexit trade, according to Chartered Accountants Ireland.

A quarter of firms surveyed by the professional body say they have been “unavoidably diverted” by the Covid-19 crisis.

The findings come ahead of tomorrow’s resumption of talks in London between UK and EU trade chiefs amid few hopeful signs of a breakthrough.

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier says a deal must be achieved by the end of October to provide sufficient time to organise any agreed new trade regime ahead of the UK’s official exit from transitional arrangements on New Year’s Day.

Both sides blame the other for the impasse. Fears are rising of a ‘no deal’ outcome in which EU-UK trade would be handled under tariff-heavy World Trade Organisation rules.

Reflecting that pessimism, the survey of firms across the island of Ireland found that only one in five expect an accord to be struck in time to avoid an effective ‘hard Brexit’.

The survey included directors of firms in manufacturing, retail, wholesale, transport, logistics and ­professional services.

Fewer than one in 10 said they are fully prepared for post-Brexit trade. Almost half do not fully understand the customs declarations that will be required to trade goods between Ireland and the UK.

“For many years, the EU has been a safe haven for Irish and UK businesses trading with each other, meaning little need for customs paperwork and declarations,” said Cróna Clohisey, the public policy lead for Chartered Accountants Ireland. “Much of the customs expertise on the island of Ireland has effectively disappeared. Customs administration is going to cost businesses.”

She said most firms have yet to hire a customs agent or formally invest in building their in-house customs knowledge. A quarter cited the Covid-19 crisis as a reason why “their focus has been unavoidably diverted from Brexit”.

“The businesses that will have to deal with customs administration are the same businesses struggling with the effects of Covid-19,” she said.

“It is critical for the survival of these businesses that goods get to where they need to go and on time. To do this, there is an urgent need to invest in the people needed to prepare and file customs returns.”

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